Head coach John Harbaugh went out of his way repeatedly at the end of the season to highlight Matt Elam’s solid play last season. Elam didn’t set the world on fire in his rookie campaign, but Harbaugh was quick to point out that it’s much more important to be solid first as an NFL safety.
But Elam was still disappointed with his play, and he looks ready to take the next step in his development.
Big things are expected anyway because he should make the transition to strong safety—his natural position—but Lardarius Webb went out of his way to praise Elam’s improved knowledge of the defense and his leadership, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
The person who is just really growing is Matt Elam. From last year to this year, I see a big jump with his leadership, with him controlling the back end and just being that safety, controlling the calls. I just really like where I see him going.
I’m seeing him just taking control—just taking control with communicating with the linebackers and with me. Last year, I was a veteran, so I guess he didn’t communicate with me like he wanted to. Now, if he says it, it’s what he says—we play what he says. It’s just how he speaks; he speaks with confidence now, and you can just tell.
Elam himself commented on his new approach:
I approached the offseason to get better and improve in communication and my footwork, just to make myself better in my second year. I feel like taking on that role now that James is gone. They expect more from me because I’ve been in the system for a year and it’s my second year. I need to be that guy on the back end that lines guys up and takes control.
I feel more confident because I’ve been in it for a year, I started 15 games, and I know what I’m doing now. I can play faster and make calls easier. The coaches have confidence in me now, so that’s my role now to be a leader and make those calls.
This is significant for two reasons. Firstly, Elam is a very talented player and a gifted athlete. He has all the tools to be a game-changing strong safety, and the progress is a terrific sign for the future of the Ravens defense.
Perhaps more importantly, his maturity will make it easier for the coaching staff to slot rookie Terrence Brooks into the starting lineup—assuming he earns the job, of course.
Elam’s leadership will really help Brooks make the adjustment to the NFL and allow the Ravens to cover up some of Brooks’ inexperience.